October 7, 2007
By KAREN MATTHEWS
NEW YORK (AP) â€” New York City, with its convoys of cabs, miles of subway track, fleets of fume-belching trucks and hordes of harried commuters, is a long way from Davis, Calif., with a University of California campus and not much else.
But the concrete jungle and the college town were both honored recently by the League of American Bicyclists for bike friendliness.
New York City’s bronze medal from the Washington-based bike group represents an endorsement for the city’s efforts under Mayor Michael Bloomberg to promote cycling for a cleaner environment and a healthier populace.
“The way we think about transportation and how we use our limited street space is changing,” said Janette Sadik-Khan, the city’s transportation commissioner.
The city is installing 400 to 500 bike racks a year and plans to have more than 400 miles of bike lanes and paths by 2009. There will then be 1 mile of bike lane for every 10 miles of road; the ratio is now 1 to 15. In San Francisco, it’s 1 to 7.
In Brooklyn’s hipster-heavy Williamsburg section, the city reduced the space for car parking in favor of bike parking â€” a first â€” when it widened the sidewalk to fit nine new bike racks over the summer.
“It’s better because people used to chain their bikes to trees and house gates,” said Pedro Pulido, an architect who parked his bike at one of the new racks last week.
A seven-block length of Manhattan’s Ninth Avenue is now being remade into the city’s most bicycle-oriented stretch of roadway ever, with a bike lane separated from car traffic by a paved buffer zone and a lane of parked cars.
Bloomberg also has proposed legislation to make it easier to bike to work by requiring commercial buildings to provide bicycle parking.
“According to surveys the number one reason why people who want to bike don’t is that they can’t park their bikes indoors,” said Noah Budnick, deputy director of the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives. “You just can’t park your bike on the street all day in New York.”
If theft is the No. 1 challenge facing New York cyclists, safety is No. 2.
According to the city health department and the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 2.8 bike deaths per million people annually in New York City, compared with 2.7 deaths nationally â€” a not particularly bad ranking.
But potholes and aggressive drivers can make it feel more dangerous.
“You have to always be alert,” said Barbara Ross, who bikes to work and volunteers with Time’s Up!, an environmental group that promotes a group bike ride called Critical Mass. Ross said she was once “doored” by a parked car â€” a term used to describe when the passenger door flying open without a thought for bikes.
“You can’t just ride,” she said. “Because no one’s going to be looking for you.”
A study conducted last year by the city health and transportation departments found that 3,500 cyclists were injured by cars between 1996 and 2003 and 225 were killed.
Following up on its analysis, the city announced a $1 million public service ad campaign last month to remind drivers and bike riders to watch out for each other. The city also is promoting safety by giving out thousands of free bike helmets, which are required for children and for bike messengers and delivery workers.
It was the city’s commitment to study bike crashes and prevent them that persuaded the League of American Bicyclists to bestow its bronze medal. (Davis, which has an old-fashioned bike on its city seal, is the only platinum-level community. Another college town, Palo Alto, Calif., is gold.)
Andy Clarke, executive director of the league, called New York’s 2006 survey “the most extensive study that we know of” into bike accidents.
Transportation Alternatives says there are 130,000 bicyclists on the road in New York City’s five boroughs daily. Because New York is the nation’s largest city at 8 million, that’s more total cyclists than any other U.S. city can claim.
But according to Census figures, just 0.5 percent of New Yorkers ride bikes to work. That compares to 2 percent in Seattle and San Francisco and a whopping 34 percent in Copenhagen. How much higher could New York push its number of bike commuters?
“We can certainly do better,” said Sadik-Khan, who visited Copenhagen a few months ago to study the Danish city’s bike-promoting policies.
If there are obstacles, there are also advantages to New York for cyclists. It’s flat, it’s relatively temperate and you can bring your bike on the subway. Thousands of bike messengers and Chinese food deliverymen weave through gridlock Manhattan traffic daily.
“It’s the fastest mode of transportation,” said Sarinya Srisakul, vice president of the New York Bike Messenger Association, noting that it can take half an hour to traverse 10 midtown blocks by car but just five minutes on a bike.
Sadik-Khan, who often bikes to work, said cycling not only reduces air pollution but also is “a great competitive sport” that is gaining ground with “the hedge fund crowd.”
“The line I’ve been using,” she said, “is, ‘Bike is the new golf.’”